Becoming an EMPA


PAs are educated in intensive programs modeled after medical school and accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistants (ARC-PA), or its predecessor organizations.

The average PA curriculum is 26.5 months. The typical student is 28 years old, has a bachelor's degree and four years of health care experience prior to admission.

First-year students can expect classroom education on the following:

  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Clinical Lab
  • Clinical Medicine
  • Health Promotion
  • Medical Ethics
  • Microbiology
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology


Second-year students participate in clinical rotations in the following specialties: 

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Family Medicine
  • Geriatric Medicine
  • Internal Medicine
  • Obstetrics/gynecology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatry
  • Radiology
  • Surgery


You can get an associate, baccalaureate, or master’s degree.

For a baccalaureate degree, a minimum of two years of college credits are required as well as health care experience.

For a master’s degrees, an undergraduate degree (a minimum GPA could apply) and previous health care experience.

Generally, the following studies are needed before applying to one of the programs, however, check your specific program as prerequisites can vary:

  • Anatomy
  • Biological Sciences
  • Chemistry
  • College Math
  • Computer Sciences
  • English
  • Humanities/Psychology Medical
  • Terminology
  • Nutrition
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Physiology
  • Social Science
  • Statistics


Programs are offered at or affiliated with medical schools, colleges and universities, and teaching hospitals and there are approximately 140 accredited PA programs in the United Sates. For a list of PA programs, visit the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) Website.

Upon graduation from an accredited physician assistant program, PAs must pass the national certifying examination, PANCE, for certification. Only graduates of accredited programs may take the exam, which is developed by the National Board of Medical Examiners and administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).

There are postgraduate programs for PAs in emergency medicine. To learn about the programs available, visit the Association of Postgraduate Physician Assistant Programs (APPAP).   

Learn more about certification